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u'Marchers heading down Indian Street during the 2008 Take Back the Night event. Archive photo from The AS Review.'

Kirsten O'Brien/The AS Review

The streets of Bellingham can be lonely places at night, and not just in an imaginary monster-under-the-bed kind of way. But like flicking a light switch and illuminating a dark hallway, the Take Back the Night event hosted by the Associated Students Women’s Center encourages women to shine a light on their own nighttime boogey monsters.

The event will be held April 14 and kick off with a rally at 7 p.m. in the Performing Arts Center. Seattle-based poet Tara Hardy will speak, and Radical Cheerleaders, an AS club that promotes acceptance and understanding of others through positive cheers, will be present. In addition, various students and community members will speak.

The march will begin at 8:30 p.m. and wind through campus and downtown Bellingham. There will be an afterparty at 9 p.m. in the Underground Coffeehouse featuring Ladies First.

“It’s really about women taking back the feeling of being able to walk alone at night and not be scared, and not feel like they need to be accompanied by a man to feel safe,” said Devlin O’Donnell, coordinator of Crime and Sexual Assault Support Services at Western. “So often, we find that women are made to feel they need to live in fear of violence, or that if they don’t take all these precautions to protect themselves, then somehow they are to blame if they experience violence, which is absolutely untrue.”

Take Back the Night is an international event and has been occurring in different countries all over the world for over 30 years. According to the Take Back the Night organization’s website, the first march in the United States occurred as a candlelight procession through the streets of Philadelphia in 1975. The website explains that women have historically felt anxiety while walking alone at night, and so the event aims to show women and girls all over the world that they deserve to feel safe walking in their communities, no matter what time of day.

O’Donnell said that she had participated in more than 10 Take Back the Night rallies in Bellingham, and each time she leaves feeling empowered.

“[After the rally] you leave feeling jazzed up. It’s not so much that all the sudden you feel empowered, but you’re reminded of how badass you are,” she said. “You’re reminded that, ‘Wait, this is sweet, being a woman is awesome, and look at these people who are here who agree with me!’ It’s a great reminder of how we all have an opportunity to have our voices heard.”

Even though the march’s goal is to empower women, it tends to marginalize other groups who may also feel unsafe walking alone at night but who do not identify as female. Lizzie Lamb, Women’s Center coordinator, said the office struggled with being inclusive when planning this year’s event. Lamb said that transgender people in particular may face discrimination and may be especially fearful when walking at night.

“Having that common experience of being a woman and knowing what that feels like can be really empowering, but we also don’t want to ignore the experiences that other people have had or downplay that or say that violence only happens against women,” Lamb said. “It’s challenging; how can we include all these people and still call it Take Back the Night?”

The event may be geared towards women, but O’Donnell said that men can also participate. The rally before the march will be open to all genders.

“We’re basically just there for support. Take Back the Night is a women’s empowerment night; they take back the night themselves and they have to do it on their own,” Eric DeLander, from the AS club Western Men Against Violence said. “While they’re marching, we inform people why it’s a women-only event and why they’re doing it.”

DeLander said that he and other male participants would be lighting candles in the PAC plaza to honor the female marchers and explained that it was important that the women march on their own.

“We don’t march, that’s all them,” he said. We keep our space and let them march while at the same time supporting them.”

O’Donnell said that the event can be eye opening for all genders, and she encouraged everyone to experience Take Back the Night for themselves.

“If someone doesn’t understand why it wouldn’t be empowering, I challenge them to show up to the event and then they’ll understand why it is,” she said.

Take Back the Night events are celebrated around the world as a visible way to take a stand against sexual violence, particularly against women. More information can be found at takebackthenight.org.